The Delta Blog

The Always Evocative Tahrir

 

Three of the four front page pieces in Tahrir build the quickly escalating anti-army narrative (not that it didn’t exist, but the recent clashes seem to be taking it to a new height)

Above, a photo displays Hosni Mubarak sitting beside General Tantawi. Tahrir News seems to frame the day’s headlines that follow with the bit of text beside the photo:

“Who is ruling Egypt now? Is it the military council, who took control of the government on February 11, or is it Mubarak from his seat in the medical center, and his cronies in Tora prison, and his men which learned to obey him on the Military Council? Nothing has changed, it’s the same violence, the same barbaric way of ridding demonstrators, the same insidious killing of Egypt’s youth.”

Above the picture of the clashes: “Did the army and police collude to burn the Scientific research center?”

A photo connects the Institute for the Advancement of Scientific Research, pointed to on the left and which burned yesterday amid the ongoing clashes, to a firefighting compound across the street from it, where materials could have apparently been garnered to put out the flames, but weren’t.

And worse, just below this photo:

Above, a split screen photo suggests the same army member seen clashing with a woman in the street as the one setting fire to the research institute, this time in civilian clothing.

And so Tahrir News suggests that the army, the police, and even the former Mubarak regime, are all colluding to foster the current havoc. Round two election coverage picks up on page 10.

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Egypt Election Debates?

Something I hope makes its way into post-revolution Egypt is electoral debating. Not because public debates between candidates are always informative in a detail-oriented sense – occasionally they do force evasive candidates to carve out clearer stances around divisive issues – but rather because they can be wildly entertaining, plain and simple. Imagine for a moment a bout of dialectic sparring between Mohamed ElBaradei and Hazem Salah Abu Ismail. A colorful conservative versus a more reserved liberal, it wouldn’t be too unlike the awkward coupling of Michelle Bachmann versus Barack Obama, just brilliant television, in my opinion.

But my personal dream contests aside, debates also breathe a certain amount of life into the electoral season by taking campaigns beyond inanimate street signs to – sometimes in subtle, sometimes in profound ways – expose the personalities and idiosyncrasies of candidates in a rawer form, adding another layer to the political discussion. In other words, I clearly think they’re a net benefit for democratic elections. And more to point, and what prompted this thought, a friend of mine pointed out this amazing campaign sign currently hanging in Mansoura:

Above, one of Mansoura’s individual seat candidates for parliament essentially calls out all of his opponents and challenges them to an open debate. The sign reads “The general manager of the attorney general’s office requests a public debate at his own expense, should anyone wish [to debate] please call [telephone number]“

I have yet to hear of a scheduled debate, but should he find a challenger, I’m there.

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Some Programming Notes

One of our first long-ish pieces, something we’d place under the heretofore mythical title of “Delta Project,” was just published on Jadaliyya. Essentially, it’s an overview – with lots of photos – highlighting some of the nuances and quirks that have defined election campaigns in Mansoura. You can view it here.

Also, my colleage Nick Hilgeman was recently asked to curate the Solidarity With Egypt’s Movement for Democratic Freedom Facebook Cause page (someone needs to start a cause to shorten that title). So he’ll be aggregating his favorite and most informative pieces concerning Egypt’s transition from among the roughly 2,000 he reads each day on this topic.

Confession: there’s a huge backlog of video and photography which hasn’t been posted to the site due to a wonderful combination of below dial-up connection internet speed and an inexplicably totaled laptop. Both will likely be worked out soon, but for now, I’m chalking this up to Delta life, assuming this comes with the territory, and hoping that this gives us some sort of street credibility. If it doesn’t, please don’t tell me that.

Finally, with violence in Cairo, there’s demonstrations planned for Saturday in Mansoura, and it’s sounding very much like a replay of the events which took place just before round 1 of voting. Demonstrators have vowed to stay away from the Mudariya, the security building where violence was provoked a few weeks ago, so we’re hoping things stay peaceful. For updates from #Mansoura, you can follow us on Twitter: Eric KnechtNick Hilgeman, and for the Arabic, Mohamed Ezz.

 

 

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Hazem Shoman and the Salafists

A lot has been said in the past few weeks regarding the relative success of the Salafist parties in the elections. Among the roughly five million articles written, there are the torrent of those reiterating the mild surprise story, as well as those reminding us that this isn’t actually surprising at all. On the implication of their electoral wins, there are those taking a broad view, laughing at Western fears by pointing out that this isn’t going to meaningfully change very much, and then those which, well, aim to do precisely the opposite, bludgeoning us over the head with the fear stick, careful to even throw in a few gratuitous terrorist references for good measure.  And then perhaps my favorite, those that have narrowed the discussion only to the most pressing of questions regarding Salafist success.

A few days ago I got the chance to attend a Salafist conference held at Mansoura University. On display was Hazem Shoman, one of the more popular (or unpopular, depending on your view) Salafist public figures. Many outside of Egypt got to know Shoman’s name from an incident last month, when the preacher crashed a concert held at a Mansoura public school to inform students that such celebrations were in fact haram, or forbidden. And this wasn’t the first time Shoman did this. In October I was on my way out to another such concert at Mansoura University when a friend called to tell me not to come, Shoman had broken it up. Quite naturally, the guy has some detractors.

Stories like this of Shoman reinforce the image of stone cold sheikhs, condemning all forms of fun (as I would define the word at least) and focused on the singular goal of resurrecting an Islamic state of old. And given their success in the elections, the next implication is that Egyptians, or a sizable minority, must be of the same ideological bend, and thus must largely be voting in a referendum of sorts, approving this vision.

But what reading about Salafists exclusively from media reports pointing out their excessiveness leaves out, is the other side of people like Shoman, who are highly charismatic, engaging speakers that can light up large crowds, delivering speeches that resonate with audience members on both religious and moral grounds, and which don’t meander into the peripheral points about alcohol and bikinis that western journalists often try to trip them up with. Below is the beginning of Shoman’s speech from a few days ago, more or less his introductory remarks. I’m sharing it simply to show how seemingly likeable the man can be in public forums, and to draw a contrast to the Shoman we most often read about, the one that spends his days brewing over which concert he can break up next. Here, he essentially wishes marriage for everyone in the crowd, before launching into a speech about making the correct moral decisions in daily life. His energy never seems to abate.

 

Somewhat speculative takeaway: the larger point here is that many likely vote for Salafists for reasons other than simply pure ideology. For one, there’s the above mentioned star power of some of their ranks, and then there’s also the Islamic alternative vote. As in, there are many who, for one reason or another, simply don’t like the Muslim Brotherhood (which would seem quite natural given the fact that the organization has exposed themselves to public opinion for quite some time) and decide that they want Islamists, but not them. A Shoman speech later and they might decide that Hezb Al-Nour, the main Salafist party, has their vote. Be afraid, Ed Husain.

 

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The Lot of Liberals in Dakahlia

I want to bring your attention to the below map, some of the basic implications of which should be very troubling for liberal groups organizing for rounds two and three of the elections:

Outlined in red is a single (ignore all the criss-cross) electoral district for party list candidates where eight seats are up for grabs. This particular district is located in Dakahlia, a spacious governorate (population 5.4 million) which is divided into three districts for list candidates, and which votes in round three, on January 3rd.

Again, this is just one of the governorate’s three districts, meaning any party list competing here must compete over this entire territory (as a frame of reference, Cairo, labeled on the bottom, is roughly 120 kilometers away from the bottom of the outlined district)

Now here’s the same map but with one of Alexandria’s electoral party list districts instead highlighted:

Needless to say, a much more manageable space for competing party lists to reach their constituencies.

In this particular district, early first round results suggest a reasonably close race between the Muslim Brotherhood led Alliance, the more conservative Islamists (led by Hezb Al-Nour), and the liberal Egyptian Bloc. These early results have led to a torrent of articles lamenting the poor shape of liberals and their competitiveness in the current contest.

But it’s not the underperformance of the liberals in the first round that should alarm them most per se, but rather what this may tell us about the massive losses they are about to incur in rounds two and three when considering some of the places they have to compete next.

Recall the map up top of Dakahlia’s first electoral district for party lists. Within that district is the governorate’s capital, Mansoura, an urban center home to about 500,000 residents, or roughly one third of the first district’s population. Two things about this map should be troubling to liberals:

1) The expansive mass of land that party lists have to cover, which reaches far beyond the capital, makes campaigning in the entire district nearly impossible unless you are already established in major village centers (marakiz) throughout the district. The dominant liberals in this particular district, the Revolution Continues Alliance (RCA), are not. With their brand new campaign simply trying to gain traction in the most populous part of the district, Mansoura, they continue to remain nearly invisible to the two thirds of the population living outside of the city.

2) The liberal party list is still not very well known even inside Mansoura. In early November a survey was conducted by the RCA in Mansoura which found that 80% of voters in the city were planning to vote for the Muslim Brotherhood’s FJP. Of that group of respondents, 60% claimed that they would be doing so, at least in part, because they didn’t know anything about other party lists. Over the last month the RCA has thus focused nearly all of its energy in simply introducing itself to voters for the first time, a huge uphill climb in the final two months before the election, while FJP continues to regularly hold membership drives.

In an interview we recently held with the RCA, the district coordinator revealed that only in the final two weeks before the elections would the campaign engage in a massive blitz into the surrounding villages to introduce the candidates. In other words, that impossibly large territory outlined in the opening map will be traversed largely for the first time only 14 days before residents there vote.

Meanwhile, the Dakahlia coordinator for the FJP opened his schedule book a few weeks ago when we asked about covering events, and was, embarrassingly enough for us, appalled by the lack of specificity of our request; in other words, there were events going off all over the governorate on a near daily basis, so we had to tell him exactly what we wanted to see, and also be willing to travel far distances if we wanted to cover them.

Of course, this also entirely ignores whatever percentage of villagers will feel inclined to vote for the ultra conservative Salafists, whose religious appeal might negate the need for the type of airtight organizational show being put on by FJP.

And this all bring us back to that earlier map of Alexandria and its round one competition. The question is a bit clearer, if not already trite: if lesser organized liberals weren’t able to win in friendlier and more geographically negotiable territory, how will they pull seats in the vast village-dotted regions of the Nile Delta, where many of the parties and candidates remain largely unestablished?

And to add an additional layer of liberal angst, recall too that some of the other governorates, unlike Dakahlia where I reside, do not even boast as urban of a capital for liberal groups to organize themselves from. Daqahlia’s neighboring governorate, Sharqiya (voting in round 2), for example, has its capital in Zagazig, a less developed and more conservative city than even Mansoura.

 

 

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Video: The Friday of the Final Chance, Mansoura

Below is a video shot by Ahmed Najeeb covering this Friday from Mansoura. Upwards of 1000 people came out for marches marking one week since the city began its uprising against the military. Also in this video you can see the level of organization that has become of the events in Mansoura, as what started as a small field hospital to treat a few demonstrators has turned into a fully functional treatment center for injuries of all sorts with large quantities of supplies donated from local pharmacies. Also, and inexplicably, a guy with a machete.

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Mansoura Sets Up a Field Hospital

On Tuesday, November 22, the Central Security Forces of Mansoura escalated the use of tear gas around their main headquarters (al-mudariya) to disperse demonstrators that had steadily increased in terms of both number and intensity over the previous two days. Below is a video shot by Ahmed Najeeb on Tuesday night when severe tear gas suffocation prompted one man to set up a field hospital just down the road at the Daqahliya governorate building (al-muhafaza). I’ve appended very basic subtitles that give an overview of what’s being discussed and going on (not literal or word for word)

 

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11/23 The Headlines

The morning’s headlines from Al-Tahrir (liberal, independent), Al-Masry Al-Youm (liberal/moderate, independent), and Al-Ahram (state-owned) respectively:

Above, Tahrir’s large text up top reads “The square demands the general leaves.” Below the picture: “Group meeting with political forces: Ideas, not decisions” subheaded with “Acceptance of Sharaf’s resignation…and the salvation government – did not determine – it’s president…and the drafting of the constitution in one month…and presidential elections will be at the latest June 30, 2012…and everyone is still waiting on the decision of the general”

Al-Masry Al-Youm, above, takes a different approach, using the front page to compare Egypt’s current state with the progress made next door in Tunisia. “Egypt,” written on the right in large red letters is followed by “The blood of the second revolution is the cost of the military’s mistakes” and the subheading “Sources: The military council and political forces agree upon presidential elections before June 30 2012, and parliamentary elections as scheduled…and an immediate halt to violence.” The picture below the text is a man holding a tear gas canister with a gun aimed at him by central security forces.

To left, the headline “Tunisia” is accompanied by a radically different scene relative to its Egyptian counterpart, with families sitting at benches with pictures of their martyred family members in front of them. The heading of Tunisia’s photo reads “begins building a second republic” and “families of the martyrs attend the first session of parliament for establishing the posts among major parties…and the elections to be held within a year.”

Finally the three titles of articles in the bottom half read “Dissent within the Muslim Brotherhood over their absence in the million man protest,” “Parliamentary candidates suspend their campaigns in solidarity with Tahrir,” “Revolutionaries of Tahrir are offering a monetary reward for anyone who can offer information about the sniper officer.”

Al-Ahram opens with “The revolutoin of Tahrir continues” and then a quote from the general: “Presidential elections before the end of June…and parliamentary elections as scheduled, we are ready to hand over authority immediately following a national referendum.” Just above the picture of a coffin moving through Tahrir, the headline reads “The square refuses…and demands the expulsion of the military council”

Below the photo, “Anan vows to stop violence against the demonstrators and to release detainees and treat the injured”

The pictures of demonstrations along the bottom are accompanied with text reading “5 new martyrs, 520 injured,” ‘Violent confrontations between demonstrators and police,” “We die as martyrs and won’t live as traitors,” “An urgent call to donate blood”

Finally, “Sharaf’s cabinet mandated to conduct its work until the formation of a new government”

—-

And that’s the highlights of Egypt’s front pages, from left to right. In a small surprise, harshest tone towards the government today goes to Al-Masry Al-Youm.

UPDATE *****

Al-Tahrir “wins” with this beast of a full-color back page taken out today:

The heading here reads “Tantawi following in the footsteps of Mubarak…in killing” “Is the general facing accusations of killing demonstrators like our deposed president?”

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11/22 The Headlines

If the past few days of headlines didn’t give you a taste for how the different papers here frame the country’s narrative, today’s definitively should. Below, just the headlines, taken from Tahrir (left wing indepenent), Al-Masry Al-Youm (moderate/left independent) and Al-Ahram (state-run) papers.

Above, in Al-Tahrir the big headline up top reads “The military confirms it’s failure by bullets and blood.” Bordering the picture we’re asked “Why are the police officers targeting people’s eyes?” Below, the smaller headline reads “million man march to respond to the crimes of the Interior Ministry.” A description beneath the headline informs us that “political forces and parties and coalitions mobilize for a million man march to restart the revolution…the Muslim Brotherhood will not participate” And finally (not pictured) the bottom half of the paper’s main title reads “The corruption of political life law…is deception”

Al-Masry Al-Youm, with a slightly less personal picture up front, headlines with “The truce falls flat on its face…and Essam Sharaf ponders a unilateral resignation. The subheadlines read “Fierece clashes between security forces and demonstrators…and the army does not provide protection…and the revolutionaries expel thugs and their supporters from Tahrir. “A sheikh claims that 30 unknown people fired bullets onto the crowd..and that it’s the responsibility of the army to provide protection to the demonstrators from the thugs.”

And then, well, there’s this take. Above, Al-Ahram, the state-run daily frames the events from the perspective of security forces being attacked, while using the opportunity to incite fear among its readership. But no further commentary, the headlines:

Ahram’s most prominent title frames the day with “Gunfire confrontations burn the ceasefire.” Below the picture a series of small articles bear the following the titles:

“A call for a million man march…and the army offers security for the demonstrators.” “

“Leader of security forces is injured by a shot to his shoulder”

“30 people throw fire from above American University of Cairo”

“Deprivation of political rights and isolation from leadership positions” (referring to the political isolation law banning NDP members released yesterday)

And of course, just for good measure: “The stock market loses 10 billion pounds, and the U.S. Dollar-Egypt Pound exchange rate breaks the 6 pound barrier”

——

And so the narratives spin – helpless demonstrators attacked by armed forces and a political isolation law that will be nominal at best according to moderate/liberal papers, security forces trying to do their job while being attacked by demonstrators as their country burns acccording to the state press.

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Video: Mansoura Heats Up

Below is the video Nick Hilgeman captured of the day’s march through Mansoura. When all was said and done there was one severely injured (minor skull fracture) and several more bearing less serious injuries. For a longer account of just what’s been going on the past few days in Mansoura, how it began, and its escalation, check out overview I wrote for Bikya Masr.

Here’s an excerpt from the Bikya piece I wrote explaining how the current demonstrations in Mansoura came to be:

“…the origin of the current unrest can best be traced to this past Saturday, when news reports of killed and injured demonstrators poured in from Tahrir Square. It was then that a small group of students from Mansoura’s April 6 Movement gathered at the city’s main administrative building to call for a march in solidarity with Tahrir.

“There was just five of us, so we began calling everyone we knew to join us,” a member of April 6 of Mansoura told Bikyamasr.com.

Joined by several other members of April 6 and various students from Mansoura University, the group began an impromptu march around the city, calling people out of their homes along the way. “Come down!” they yelled, at anyone who looked out their window. Before long, the ad-hoc march numbered upwards of 200 people.

For the following two days the marches continued, beginning each time from inside Mansoura University’s campus and circling between the city’s main administrative building and the Interior Ministry’s headquarters. The demonstrators were not officially organized by any political party, did not hold party banners, and made no reference to a civil or a religious state along the way – and only the Muslim Brotherhood of Mansoura made it clear they would not be participating.

By Monday, the march had escalated both in terms of participation and organization. A Facebook group sent out the night before by April 6 of Mansoura called on all Mansourans to join them in protests against military rule. Upwards of 1000 clogged some of the city’s main streets during the middle of the day as volunteers tried their best to rope the marchers in, herding them into a space that would allow some semblance of traffic flow. Along the way, demonstrators screamed various chants directed at the fall of the military council.

For nearly four consecutive days, marchers in Mansoura had managed to direct their energy at peaceful demonstration without either clashes or destruction of government property.

On Monday evening, however, the scene abruptly escalated, as demonstrators at the Interior Ministry’s headquarters climbed onto security personnel vehicles, prompting several rounds of tear gas and the marching of riot police to clear the scene.

In the midst of the chaos, one demonstrator, a university student by the name of Omar Darwish, was shot with a rubber bullet to the head; Darwish was rushed to the hospital after sustaining a fracture to his skull.”

—–

 

But apparently not enough people were hurt for this one to count? Photo below via Al-Jazeera shows that Mansoura’s still not in the spotlight:

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